Imagine my surprise when just after penning a very positive review of Chris Sommovigos relatively new Stereovox Studio-series Colibri-R interconnects and Firebird speaker cables I find out there are already new versions of each. Im all for not resting on one's laurels, but jeez! Its kind of bittersweet to find out something is "new and improved," especially when you just discovered and genuinely liked the original, but I was still very interested to hear what Chris thought was so important to warrant such a quick upgrade.
One thing about the upgrade is unusual but welcome: The prices have not changed one bit. The Colibri-R single-ended interconnects remain $549.99 USD per meter pair, and the Firebird speaker cables still cost $599.99 per 2.5-meter pair. This is all the more impressive when you consider that both the Colibri-R and Firebird now sport the air-articulated Teflon-tape dielectric used for the Stereovox Reference line of cables, which are considerably more expensive. According to Chris, this more pricey material is significantly less absorptive than your general run-of-the-mill Teflon dielectric used for many cables we know and love.
Not a bad deal, eh? Something for nothing. Actually, the good news doesnt quite stop there for the Firebird, which now has two additional hollow-tube conductors, resulting in twisted pairs of wires extending out of the jackets as opposed to the single wires of the old version. These conductors are now also color coded, which helps a lot during setup.
Lastly, both the Colibri-R and Firebird are actually a bit thinner than their respective previous models. Huh? Weren't two conductors added to the Firebird? Yes, but Chris mined a good chunk of plastic out of the jacket to further free things up internally, and this slimmed things down externally as well. Less plastic also benefits the environment -- bonus.
Oh, I almost forgot -- most important, the jacket color has changed from electric baby blue to a considerably more subdued and business-like charcoal gray for both the interconnects and speaker cables. I also forgot to mention in my initial review that these products are all designed and manufactured in the good ol US of A. I, for one, am pretty impressed when I read that these days.
As always when testing new interconnects and speaker cables, I started with the interconnects because, with my system, thats where I tend to hear the greatest difference. It was apparent from the first second I plugged in the new Colibri-Rs that they were quite a different animal from the originals. In my earlier review, I noted that the Colibri-Rs offered up an outstanding spatial presentation that seemed utterly natural -- in the same way that live music presents itself. My only reservation was that upper-octave detail was a little light, which had the effect of slightly softening initial attack and reverb while also limiting the sense of air in and around the performance.
Suffice it to say my reservation has been summarily cancelled -- the new Colibri-Rs served up all the air and detail I could want. Another benefit was that images were now more defined in space, and the three-dimensional sonic picture became clearer throughout. And that was not all. At the other end of the spectrum, I noticed that bass notes were significantly tighter and quicker, which greatly enhanced the differentiation of pitch and tone when listening to something like a fast-plucked acoustic bass. By comparison, the older Colibri-Rs sounded thick and slow in that region.
As noted, the old Colibri-R excelled in its ability to place and portray individual instruments within a holographic space, and the new version retains this ability. The only tradeoff was that there was just a tad less meat on the bones with the new interconnects -- I guess its hard to trim the fat without losing at least some of the flavor. The older Colibri-R has a slightly more robust and fuller sound that, while seeming a little woolly next to the new guy, may appeal to some folks or sound good in systems on the lean or analytical side. Mixing the new interconnects between my DAC and preamp with the old between the preamp and amplifier struck a nice balance that ran basically right up the middle between the two. Although I still much preferred using the new interconnects exclusively, I could understand many benefits from having the option to mix 'n' match. I guess what Im saying is that the two are different enough that I could see offering both, and its almost a shame to see the old Colibri-R retired at such a young age.
Which brings me to the inevitable comparison with my Acoustic Zen interconnects. Since I only have a complete set of Silver Reference IIs ($948 per pair), I used them exclusively, and despite costing roughly twice that of the Stereovox interconnects, the comparison was more than fair. The Acoustic Zen interconnects sound much more like the original Colibri-Rs: a little fuller and more robust, although, as I stated in the initial review, the Silver Reference IIs have a better top end. However, both Colibri-R interconnects -- especially the newer version -- exhibit a quietness of background that makes the Acoustic Zen interconnects sound almost hazy by comparison. The effect is that the sense of dimensionality exhibited by the Colibri-Rs is largely squashed by the Silver Reference IIs, which is something I hadnt noticed until I heard the Stereovox interconnects. Although the new Colibri-R serves up more detail and air than the Silver Reference II, I still think cymbals and the like sound a little cleaner and more refined through the Acoustic Zen interconnects, but bass is clearly tighter and better defined with the Colibri-Rs. I certainly understand now why Chris Sommovigo decided to make the upgrade so soon.
The differences between the old and new Firebird speaker cables were much less clear, which is what I have come to expect in my system -- it seems to minimize differences between speaker cables. At first, I thought the new version was quicker and tighter in the bass region, much like its interconnect counterpart, but what I discovered was that after just a few minutes of play time the old cable settled in and appeared just as quick. Unlike with the interconnects, I did not find much difference at all, even in the higher frequencies. Not that thats such a bad thing; this speaker cable just seems to pass everything right on through. Chris mentioned that the added conductors should help with longer cable runs, and that may be so, but the 2.5-meter cables apparently werent long enough to take advantage of this attribute.
The Firebird speaker cables dont, by themselves, seem to foster the spatial characteristics of the interconnects, although they pass the information to the speakers without a hitch, as do my reference Acoustic Zen Satori shotgun speaker cables ($1188 per pair), by the way. The Acoustic Zen speaker cables sound fuller and more robust with a slightly more refined treble, while the Firebirds offer more overall detail with tighter imaging and better control and definition in the bass.
Although my Acoustic Zen interconnects and speaker cables still produce beautiful music, I cant help but feel as though Im looking through a prism with them after hearing these new entries from Stereovox. These upgraded cables have unleashed more musical information than Ive ever heard before through my system, and it sounds very, very right. With his latest iteration of the Colibri-R interconnect, Chris Sommovigo has managed to address my main reservation about his otherwise excellent original while maintaining its virtues. I thought the old Colibri-R was a great value, given what it can do at its price point, so by definition the new Colibri-R is a much greater value and worth an audition alongside competitors at multiples of its price without excuses or qualifications. Although I didnt find all that much sonically different with the new Firebird speaker cable, it remains about as neutral an entry as I have heard in the category, which at the very least makes it a great match for the Colibri-R.
Overall, the Stereovox Colibri-R interconnects and Firebird speaker cables are the best Ive had in my system and reasonably priced to boot. You should give them a listen before Chris tinkers with them or -- gulp -- raises their price.
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